Chinese Mothers and Chinese Pretzels


I came across this recent article from the Wall Street Journal, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, a hilarious and frightening depiction of Chinese parenting styles. At times, it’s hard to distinguish the author’s wry humor from her actual beliefs with parenting.

In any case, if the article is a measuring stick for good Chinese mothering, I’m a terrible one. I was raised by a wonderfully non-Chinese Chinese mother, and am grateful for that. I was encouraged to work hard and strive for excellence, and at the same time never believed that my value or worth came from my performance. I never played piano or flute, and didn’t take SAT prep classes during elementary school. Instead, I had the freedom to choose my own friends and activities based on my unique passions. I chose ballet, soccer, art, theatre (a Chinese parent’s worst nightmare), and later, a career in full-time ministry (a Chinese parent’s worst nightmare multiplied by at least a thousand). My parents taught me to learn from my mistakes, admit to weakness and fault, make personal decisions and face their natural consequences. Along the way, I always knew that my parents loved me and wanted the best for me.

I firmly believe in parenting with encouragement, nurturing, and freedom (when appropriate, of course), rather than shame and scare tactics. Sorry to my son and other future children…you’ll just have to receive guilt trips and torture practices elsewhere.

On that note, how about a Chinese mom recipe? My grandmother frequently makes these Chinese pretzels for holidays and family gatherings. With precision and dedication, she labors with love for hours so her family can enjoy these for a snack or dessert. They are light and crunchy and slightly sweet, and every one of her ten grandchildren savor each and every one. She passed down her recipe and skills to my mom, who then passed them on to me. The recipe requires a Chinese pretzel iron (or rosette iron), which is a metal mold on a wooden handle. These can be found in kitchen supply shops or Amazon (seriously, what doesn’t Amazon sell?). My first batch turned out okay, but I had a hard time getting the pretzels to slide off the iron. I was reassured by my mom that in time, my iron would become seasoned and produce better pretzels. Hopefully, I’ll hone my Chinese pretzel skills, and make them for my children like a good Chinese mother.

Chinese Pretzels

From my Popo (grandmother) Aileen Fong

print this recipe

1 16-ounce box of cornstarch
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
vegetable oil
1/2 cup evaporated milk
2 1/2 cups water
2 eggs

Heat two inches of oil in a medium to large pan or pot to 385 degrees. Sift dry ingredients. In a medium bowl, beat eggs, then add milk and water, and beat again. Add dry ingredients and beat until smooth. Heat rosette iron in oil and dip into batter (do not submerge whole iron in batter – just dip it until it barely touches the top of the iron, but does not go over the top) and place in oil. Gently shake pretzel off iron. If it sticks, use a fork or chopstick to help it off. Heat iron briefly, and repeat until 3-4 pretzels are cooking in the pan. Cook until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Store pretzels in an airtight container.

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